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Md. tourism chief: ‘Everything tastes better here’

Wini Roche on a longer summer, Maryland tourism and the brewery industry

(Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

(Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Memorial Day weekend marked the unofficial start of summer. In Maryland, that summer will be a little bit longer for many families after Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order requiring schools to start after the Labor Day holiday.

Maryland’s tourism industry hopes to capture some of that extra vacation time from families. Wini Roche, executive director of the Maryland Tourism Coalition, called the executive order a win for the state’s tourism businesses.

Roche’s organization advocates on behalf of businesses involved in Maryland’s tourism industry and works with other statewide and local offices to promote tourism to and within the state.

In an interview with The Daily Record, Roche discussed where tourists to Maryland come from and what brings them here. She also discussed some of the ways she thinks the state can help the tourism industry.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What’s the state of tourism?

Tourism is certainly doing very, very well. It is a robust industry in the state that just grows every year. We’ve seen growth over the past five years. We have a way to measure everything that happens in the tourism industry through tax codes. As far as we can tell, it’s only going to grow from here. It will if all the right things happen.

What are the right things?

We have to continue to invest in an industry that works. We need to make it easier for our small- business folks – 95 percent of businesses that are tourism businesses are small businesses. Some businesses are your mom-and-pop businesses and some it’s just a sole proprietorship where they don’t have any employees. Whether it’s a Main Street business or a B&B or a brewery, we would like to see government get out of the way, let them thrive. It’s hard enough to be a small business in this day and time.

What are some of the things you think the state can do there?

We need to invest more money into our zone to keep us competitive. We would like to see the state invest in the Maryland Tourism Development Board as the Tourism Promotion Act called for in 2008. If there was more than 3 percent growth in any particular year, then the governor may put those funds back into tourism.

This year, $8.25 million went to the Maryland tourism board. We were level funded. … What we would like to see is an increased investment based on the growth. We feel like that’s a fair way to increase the revenue. We have a cap of course … so we can’t get any more than a $5 million increase any particular year.

I also want to say we also feel that in general, this current administration is very pro-tourism. We like a lot of the policies coming out and there’s a lot of discussion about how we can creatively find ways to increase the budget because we find ways to give back to the state.

What regulations do you think have made business more difficult?

In general, we weren’t pleased with the sick leave bill and a lot of other bills negatively affected small businesses. When you mandate how much someone has to get paid and you mandate the number of hours, in a lot of cases you’re going to see people go to temporary employee situations. Hopefully, it doesn’t have as negative of an impact as some folks are calling for.
(This interview was conducted before Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the paid sick leave bill.)

We were active with the brewery issue this year. We weren’t pleased with the final outcome and would like to have seen it go more in the favor of the brewers.

Where has Maryland traditionally targeted? Where do the tourism experts think we can get people from?

There is a big target in the Washington, D.C., area, especially since D.C. is a big international draw, and Philadelphia. We are now marketing in Pittsburgh, also New York.

What is Maryland’s competitive advantage? What do you say to someone who’s thinking about Virginia or the Jersey Shore or Philadelphia to see the historic sights?

If I had to say it in a nutshell, I’d have to say everything tastes better here. And I’ll say that because I know that is the top reason people travel to Maryland is food and drink. If you think about it, it’s high on your list when you’re going to a destination. What am I going to eat and how am I going to taste the authenticity of a certain area? Of course, all of the sights and the water activities here is also a very big draw and the Chesapeake Bay and the ocean.

The beer industry. Are people coming to Maryland because of it?

People are surveyed and that’s the top activity that they enjoy here. There are very close seconds. Shopping is right up there, sightseeing.

The industry … it’s growing at a rapid pace. I think we have 60 breweries. I think that there’s a lot of room for growth there, other competitive areas have hundreds of breweries. We think there’s more room for growth there and we think the more the better. When people travel, if they can cluster their experiences to something that they’re looking to do and they can do it in a variety of places, then that’s even better.

How do you feel about the debate over moving the start of schools until after the Labor Day holiday?

For us, this was a really great milestone and it was a win for small business, finally! We’re just excited because families, visitors, we’re all going to be able to enjoy a longer summer. Yes, there’s a longer upside. We hope an uptick of at least $75 million in additional economic impact. And there’s just the ability to have more time. I know, I’m a mom and it seems like over the years, I would just stop planning in August because everything was creeping back, creeping back. That just sort of stymies the economy and everything just sort of stopped.

I just hope that everybody gets out and enjoys whatever it is they want to enjoy this summer. Maybe they can add on that second trip away or maybe they can visit someplace they had never discovered before because they have more time and I think it should be of great benefit to the state.

People tend to think of tourism season as the summer, what do you push the rest of the year to encourage tourism?

Tourism is year-round and you’d have your folks out in Garrett County saying, ‘It’s not just about summertime travel.’ They sometimes would like to shake the sky and get a little more snow. Everything’s weather-dependent but there’s so much to do here year-round. In the fall, places like up in Harford County with the rolling hills and the wineries and breweries.

Wini Roche, executive director of the Maryland Tourism Coalition
Age: 47
Career Highlights: Executive Director, Maryland Tourism Coalition: 2016- present;
Tourism manager for Harford County, 2006-2015;
Director of Tourism, Dorchester County, 1994-2002
Education: Towson, Mass Communication, 1994

Business reporter Christine Condon contributed to this story.

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